Virtual Reality (VR) in healthcare is expected to reach a market value of $3.8 billion by 2020. So the value of this technology and the resulting demand is hardly a surprise.

Healthcare IT and telemedicine are already more diverse across various medical disciplines. So you can expect to find VR being used in various forms beyond rehabilitation and simulation VR-training.

As the potential of VR technology in medicine is realized, you can expect it to grow as a diagnostic tool. Further, it can also be a tool that’s used in immersive 3D-simulation therapy for the following:

  • Autism
  • Anxiety
  • Cancer therapy
  • Chronic uncontrollable pain
  • Depression
  • Phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • VR in assisted living

VR technology is also expected to have a significant impact in the following areas:

Robotic Surgery via VR Telemedicine

A surgeon can now use a console and operate robotic arms that are enabled to make more delicate movements than human hands (as a result of robotic dexterity that can’t be matched by human wrists). This means that surgery that is minimally invasive can become highly precise by going with a robotic option.

Traditional laparoscopy is where a surgeon needs to inspect a 2D video screen before making any movements. But with VR, surgeons can now watch a 3D video and engage in surgical maneuvers without ever looking away. This improvement has made a huge difference when it comes to telemedicine.    

Current technology like the da Vinci system was used just a few feet away from the patient. But as VR evolves, it’s now possible to make the experience immersive with 3D consoles to support telemedicine in a number of different ways from far away.

Telemedicine and Augmented Reality

While VR can give you an immersive experience that can be hyper-real and sometimes fantastical by incorporating finely tuned sound and haptic feedback, Augmented Reality (AR) uses similar technology to enhance the here and now.

Right now, telemedicine is pretty loosely defined as a domain. At present, it’s just perceived as providing healthcare services from a distance via telecommunications tools. So there’s a lot of room to grow in this niche as telemedicine can be anything like video chat meetings (check out our custom built VideoMedicine app), remote patient monitoring (check out the solution we created for Norway's Innlandet Hospital Trust), and highly advanced remote surgery.

The latter fuses both telemedicine and AR technologies to enable surgeons to operate on patients located far away. This is a departure from fictional virtual environments as it’s based on real-time sensory data. As a result, a surgeon located in one place can perform a surgical procedure in another location.

Dr. Mehran Anvari, Scientific Director & CEO at Centre for Surgical Invention & Innovation (CSII), has shown that these distances can be as far 932 miles.

Although robotic surgery will continue to grow significantly, VR in telemedicine is far from limited.

VR Telemedicine in Skills Training

VR technology has been incorporated into training various professionals for some time now. These cover industries such as the military apparatus and space exploration.

VR telemedicine apps

Image courtesy of LinkedIn

Some of the same technologies that’ve being used in other industries can be incorporated into healthcare as a knowledge transfer tool to help physicians working in rural areas. This, in turn, can also enhance quality assurance and peer review while enabling the completion of complex medical procedures.

Further, in emergency situations, non-clinicians can also receive expert training for procedures like administering CPR.

But this technology is still in its infancy, so although VR in telemedicine has advanced significantly, there is still a long way to go.

Like any emerging technology, there might be hurdles to overcome before we see the true value of VR technology in healthcare. These can be low adoption rates and high costs, but these bumps on the road can be relative.

VR technology has the potential to lower expenses over time by reducing the need to spend on more medical equipment. Further, it can also expedite certain procedures which will make it highly cost-effective.

VR technology in telemedicine is still pretty close to the starting line, so expect it to have a much bigger impact on the industry over the next three years.

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Andrew Zola is a freelance writer, designer, and artist working in branding and marketing for over ten years. He is a contributor to various publications with a focus on new technology and marketing.

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